As Told by Dakota Sue
When I straggled into work the following morning Archer was already in the briefing room, tapping his cane against the foot on his good leg, glaring at his watch, and grumbling to himself. I looked around the room; even with my late arrival, we were one short. Q and Nat had not put in an appearance yet.
Archer glanced up at me and his expression softened slightly. He sighed, shrugged, and hauled himself to his feet. “Let’s get started; I’m not getting any younger, here. The other two can join up with you when they get here.”
“What’s up, Chief?” I asked.
“Lonely Point Naval Base was attacked last night. A round dozen of their guards were killed and the attackers escaped with equipment from the armory before the alarm was even raised.”
“That’s twice since we started here,” I commented. “They don’t need our help, they need to wake up and start paying some attention.”
“What did they take?” Durance asked, playing idly with a cigarette.
“Millions of dollars worth of weapons, body armor, explosives, and even some experimental equipment.”
“So someone either wants to wage a small war, or get rich on the black market,” the cyborg concluded. “Or both, no need to be picky.”
“Have you dug up any intel on these intruders?” Finn asked.
“Not much, they covered their tracks fairly well. Not perfectly, however,” Archer said, allowing himself a thin-lipped smile. He clicked his remote and we watched grainy film footage splash across the screen. A tall, muscular, square-jawed man, Mr. All-American, in other words, was standing directly under an overhead light, talking to some people that were mere dark blurs in the background.
“I’d hurry up if I were you,” he said, voice gritty and distorted. “I give us ninety seconds before the alarm is raised. Wrath, don’t forget the explosives. It’s hard to begin a revolution with only fireworks.”
The video flickered out, replaced with color photographs and dossier information. “I give you former First Lieutenant David Kessler,” Archer announced.
“He’s one of ours?” Paul asked somewhat skeptically.
“He was,” Finn said.
“Yes, he was,” Archer agreed. I frowned at Finn. The name sounded really familiar, but I couldn’t remember why. In knew I’d seen it in Finn’s file information, but the relation escaped me.
“Anything else?” Durance asked.
“He used to lead a squad of ‘normal’ soldiers trained for fighting meta-humans. A year ago he led his deam to a chemical plant in China that was supposedly creating meta-humans . . .”
Everything lined up inside my brain. “Bingo!” I announced, so pleased at discovering the answer that it didn’t occur to me that someone else was speaking. I pointed at Finn, still oblivious. “He led Finn’s old team!”
Archer groaned. “Oh, how subtle.” Everyone glared at me.
“How does she know so much?” Paul asked.
Defensively, I grumbled, “If you wanted subtle, you should’ve hired someone else.”
Archer rolled his eyes. “She knows people that aren’t afraid of the consequences of hacking into federal databases.”
“Do we have any leads on their current location?” Finn asked finally. He looked at me blandly, which somehow was worse than if he’d been openly angry.
“Can you brief us on what happened at the chemical factory?”
“Why not let Sue tell it? She seems to have all the answers.”
“Hmph.” I responded.
“There’s not much to tell in any case. The team dropped in southern China to investigate a lab that had broken some international genetic manipulation laws. Basically, they were making super-humans for a price. Once we confirmed the illegal activity, we were ordered to disable the factory and take the personnel into custody.
“After tangling with their hired soldiers, we located the chemical process they were using to incite genetic change in its subjects. Kessler decided it might be fun to give it a test drive. So, he and the other five members of the team injected themselves with the chemical compounds.
“When I tried to stop them, they decided to take me out. Three of them paid the price for trying; Kessler and another team member finally managed to subdue me; they injected me with the chemical and left me for dead. Like I said, not much to tell.”
“Why inject you?” Paul asked, followed instantly by Durance’s, “You don’t seem to have superpowers.”
“He was probably hoping the sudden change would win me over to his side. As for the powers, I don’t. I used my atropine, it was enough to interrupt the reaction. It almost killed me, but I stayed normal.”
I grimaced. “Idiots often think that your abilities determine the content of your ideals.”
“This is why, when Kessler reappears with a new squad and steals tons of munitions, we get a little nervous,” Archer concluded.
“How many people were in the unit that ransacked the base?” Durance asked.
“Seven, I’m sure,” Finn muttered.
“Yes, seven. Kessler’s former unit was codenamed the Seven Deadly Sins; Finn, for example, used to be Wrath,” Archer affirmed.
“It sounded like a lot more than just seven guys worth of gear,” Paul said.
“Kessler doesn’t think that small,” Finn replied. “They have to be planning some kind of offensive.”
“Exactly, which is why we’re all here now. I want you to go to Lonely Point and investigate the scene. Use whatever evidence you can find to locate Kessler and his new SDS unit.”
Nat ran into the room and sat down, wearing dark sunglasses and carrying an enormous cup of coffee. Archer shot her a disapproving look and she shrugged helplessly. Finn was speaking, but he glanced at her briefly. “I can handle this on my own, there’s no need to involve the entire group.”
“I’m going with you,” Nat said instantly, even though she obviously had no idea what she was volunteering to do.
“This is not up for discussion,” Archer said, a sharp edge coming into his voice. “You work as a team, and the team will tackle the problem. Forget that, and you will be decommissioned and out on the street within the hour.”
“I suppose that would work for me, too. Where do I turn in my gear?”
Nat reached out to grab his hand. “Finn,” she started.
“If you walk out that door and try to deal with Kessler by yourself, he will kill you easily,” Archer warned.
“We’ve lost one hero this month,” Paul spoke up quietly. “Let’s stick together and save the dramatics.”
Finn continued to match stares with Archer. “I’m done with this team after this op. You can kick me out, put me in jail, or put me down, I don’t care.”
“Is this all you are? I’m disappointed. Your father would be disappointed, too.” He got up and began walking towards his office, cane clicking on the floor.
“Fuck you and fuck my father. All talk until it comes time to stand up and do something. Then you walk away and let someone else handle the dirty work.” Finn whirled and stormed out of the room. Nat shot to her feet and trotted after him.
Archer turned; it looked almost like he was going to follow as well. I met his eyes and said, as calmly as I could manage, “I’ll handle this.”
“You’d better, because if that boy doesn’t learn to think before he opens his mouth Kessler won’t be the one killing him.” He sounded furious, utterly enraged. I played the conversation back in my head, trying to puzzle out which statement had hit a nerve. There wasn’t time for it now, I decided, and turned away to collect my few bits of gear.
I climbed into the driver’s seat of our not-much-loved van and waited for the others to join me. Durance appeared almost immediately and climbed into the shotgun position. Paul appeared in the backseat. Then, an interminable period later, Nat and Finn both climbed into the vehicle through the side door.
“Finn, do you really want to go it alone?” I asked.
“Nah, you guys can stick around to hold my hand. Obviously anyone that has a mind to it can kill me.”
“We could split up,” I continued doggedly. “You can always change your mind later.”
“Let’s just find them first,” he snapped, then turned to stare out the window.
It was a long drive, out of the city, through blandly similar suburbs, and out onto the triangle of rock where the Naval base overlooked the Atlantic. I found myself slipping into a comfortable focus on the Road, alone behind the wheel, regardless of passengers, as I hadn’t been for months. It felt good, being reminded that there was more out there than missions and orders. Unfortunately, the gatehouse loomed up in front of me and I had to stop.
A guard, pointing his weapon more in my direction than I really appreciated, approached the van. Behind him, three workmen were cleaning some kind of really unpleasant mess out of the guard post. “You with AEGIS?” he asked when I rolled down the window.
I blinked, startled. “Are you an idiot?” I demanded. He scowled. “No, seriously, what a question to ask! If we weren’t from AEGIS, would we really have said no? If you’re an example of the guards they have here, I’m not surprised how often you get attacked!”
“Whatever,” he said and waved us through the gate.
“Why is the guard post being cleaned in the middle of the day?” Paul asked.
“Cleaning up blood, maybe?” Finn speculated cheerfully.
I parked the van and got out. “All right, you folks know what to do,” I said, and settled in to do my own reconnaissance; smelling the air. It wasn’t pleasant; most of the smells were offensive. Blood, the acrid stench of gunpowder, bubble gum, marijuana, perfume, cigarettes . . . at best I could make out that they’d wandered through the area. I filed them in memory in case I encountered them again.
My communicator buzzed. “They came in through the fence, used a bladed weapon to make the opening. One clean slice,” Finn said, dispassionately as always.
“I can make out at least six distinct scents, but they’re muddied by all the traffic,” I responded. “What’s on the other side of that fence?”
“About two hundred yards of grass, then forest the rest of the way.”
Then I heard Nat’s voice. “I got something . . .”
I wandered over to have a look; she held up a piece of lacy black fabric. “Does this look like underwear to you?”
“Underwear?” I asked, startled. “Well, at least a few of the people that came in here were female, I said, smelling the fabric a bit tentatively. Then I sneezed. “Cigarettes.”
Finn trotted up, coming back through the gap in the fence. “I found their staging area, but I doubt it’s going to be much help.”
“Did they leave the same way they came in?” Finn shook his head.
“From what the others found it looks like they stole a truck in the motor pool and went out the front gate.”
“Oh.” I looked at the MP’s standing around, watching us dubiously. “Do you have tracers in your vehicles at all?”
“Each vehicle has a GPS emitter on it.”
“Dare I hope they haven’t disabled it?”
“The truck’s parked in the Fens. We have people on it as we speak.”
“Oh,” I said again. Clearly they didn’t have any percentage on whether we succeeded or not. “I’d like to send my people to the site, can you ask them not to disturb it before we can look at it?”
He nodded grudgingly and gave me the map coordinates.
“Did you get that, Paul?” I asked over my comm. “Will do,” was his response.
“Are we about done here?” I asked. Nat nodded and Finn shrugged. “Let’s follow Paul, then.” I waved to Durance as we went back to the van, he made a noise and climbed into his seat next to me.
“Find anything?” I asked, pulling back out onto the road.
“Well . . . apparently one of them can kill five men before they can react. Left a bloody mess.”
“Are you sure it was only one?”
“I’m fairly certain. You don’t kill five people the same way in the same instant. Too textbook.”
“Not much to report,” Paul informed us when we arrived. “There’s the truck, some homeless guys took a dump in the trunk, shell casings in the cab, some footprints.”
Everyone exited the van and began looking around. Finn crouched in the dirt next to the truck, frowning. “There might be something here . . .looks like a boot print. From a platform boot? This set of prints leads north. As long as they didn’t split up, it might be something to check.”
“I should take the evidence back to AEGIS, I can test it there,” Nat said quietly. Finn shook his head, catching her hand.
“Let the lab techs handle that. I need you here.” She smiled and squeezed his hand.
We followed the tracks down the street, the trail rapidly vanishing onto concrete and blacktop. We continued several blocks, not finding anything. It seemed pointless to continue, then I began smelling burnt rubber. I glanced down at the street and saw black tire-marks, pointing them out to the others.
“Do you want me to go after it?” Paul asked. I shook my head.
“The smell is old, they could be anywhere in the city by now.”
“So we’re back to square one,” Finn said, cursing.
“Let’s go back, then,” Durance said, and we headed back to the truck. I looked over at Nat.
“Is there any possibility you could get a make and model from those tire marks?”
“Do we have a computer?”
“I’m sure someone does,” I insisted, just as a large investigative van pulled up onto the grass in front of us, lumbering towards the stranded truck. Nat’s eyes brightened and she almost bounced.
“I want that van!”
“Let me go talk to them.” I plodded over and accosted a heavyset man in a blue uniform jacket.
“Um, can I help you?” Nat wormed past him and me and ensconced herself in the van. I had to laugh.
“You can give one of my people access to your equipment. Her, to be precise.”
“I guess it’s too late to ask whether she’s certified or not.”
“BINGO!!” Nat yelled, jumping up and down and causing the van to rock on its suspension. She thrust a digital camera into my face; I ducked out of the way, startled. “Tire tracks! Pictures!”
“Yes, ma’am,” I said, still chuckling, and wandered back to take numerous snapshots from different angles and elevations. By the time I returned she was sitting comfortably next to the investigator, both of them staring intently at computer screens. I handed the camera up and Nat plugged it in somewhere.
The others gathered around at the foot of the van and we waited impatiently, Durance smoking as always.
“Okay!” Nat declared. “The tires are standard on any rental van. The fabric, though . . . expensive silk. Very rare and exotic.” She mock-glared at Finn humorously. “You’re not cheating on me, are you?”
“He can only cheat on you if you do, in fact, have a relationship,” I remarked.
“I knew they were doing it,” Paul whispered.
Finn shook his head at us. “How the hell did someone leave underwear at the scene?”
“Someone just out of juvvie?” The technician called out.
“Come again?” Finn said, startled.
The tech turned his computer screen around, revealing a mug shot of an otherwise attractive young lady with short black hair and an extremely angry glare. “Meet Janet Monroe, former guest of the state for assault, petty larceny, and vehicular manslaughter. Age 21.”
“Do you have an address on her? Besides custody?” Finn queried.
“A halfway house in Southside, but that was six months ago. She left and no one’s seen her since.”
“These van rental agencies are turning up nothing,” Nat inserted, “but the underwear . . .” she laughed.
“Find something you like?” Finn asked.
“Three stores carry it, and the fabric is only for custom-made . . . items.”
“I am embarrassed to be a part of this investigation. But hey, if it works, it works,” I said.
“Custom-made?” Durance asked rhetorically. “Great, we’re up against the Fetish Mafia.”
“She’d be Lust, I’m betting.”
“I hope so,” Paul announced. “The thought of Gluttony in a thong is too horrible to contemplate.”
Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.
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